From the spike-laden Iron Throne of King’s Landing to Captain Kirk’s boxy metallic recliner on the USS Enterprise, chairs can become every bit as iconic as the characters who sit in them. That’s because the best production design is about so much more than picking pretty set pieces; it’s about creating a mise en scène, a French term that literally translates to “placing on stage.” Think of it as the story itself playing out in objects, lighting, and staging.
The mise en scène is somewhat heady, film-nerd concept for sure–this place where mood and story and character become one–but nowhere is it better described than in this clip, In Praise of Chairs, by Every Frame a Painting.
By simplifying production design down to a single common object–the chair–narrator Tony Zhou demonstrates how the objects of film are designed to be so much more than mere objects in film. They’re tools that can simultaneously reflect a character’s personality and denote their socioeconomic status, all while anchoring a scene to a particular place and era, and adding a some level of tone that only the right design aesthetic can create.
I’ll let Zhou’s fantastic visual essay do most of the talking. But to further deconstruct how something like a chair can work in a film, I’d urge you to consider George RR Martin’s infamous Iron Throne working in a few different contexts. When King Joffrey sits on this chair made of swords, the edges seem to emanate out of him, as if the violence of his personality has manifested as a sharp shadow. But put his younger brother, Tommen, in that same chair, and it makes the innocent lad seem only more out of his element ruling such a violent kingdom.